By Gayle Converse
You might think it’s a far stretch between serving as a high-ranking United States military officer in the Middle East to serving as an election officer in Virginia, but not for one Alexandria woman.
When Donna McDaniel retired as a major following more than 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, she knew she wanted to spend some of her time giving back in a different manner, a type of service she would come by quite naturally. During her time in the Air Force, McDaniel performed duties in command and control centers as well as planned and oversaw execution of combat air operations in Serbia, Afghanistan and Iraq.
The product of a military family which had, whenever possible, served as poll workers, McDaniel also wanted to use her leadership skills on a local level to inspire younger generations of women.
“Coupling family and military service backgrounds [reinforced] with me the importance of women having control and women who are involved in their own destiny,” McDaniel said.
Since 2019, she has served in a variety of precincts as one of the city’s election officers, or more commonly referred to as poll workers. McDaniel said she believes serving as an election officer creates opportunities for citizens to become familiar with the process and have faith in the process. She realizes women and civic engagement go hand-in-hand.
“Voting and writing to our representatives are ways we become engaged and stay engaged as citizens. If we tune out, we risk losing everything women gained during the last 150 years,” McDaniel said. “We must continue to break down barriers in our society and expand opportunities for our future. I want to help enable young women, including my four nieces and two great nieces, to have more doors open to them than women in my generation did: To be able to have a voice and a say in their futures, to live out their dreams and contribute their talents, passions and goals no matter what career path they choose.”
The U.S. remains in need of poll workers. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, almost 130,000 American poll workers stopped serving by April 2022. The Center’s survey also revealed “between 10 to 20% percent of local election officials said they were very unlikely or somewhat unlikely to stay on until the 2024 election.”
The Virginia Department of Elections said local officers “help the process run smoothly during early voting and on Election Day.”
In Alexandria, citizens may qualify to serve as an election officer in one of its 32 precincts if one is a registered voter in Virginia, is civic-minded with basic computer skills, is available to work the entire day on Election Day and has completed training prior to Election Day.
The Alexandria Office of Voter Registration and Elections is currently recruiting officers for the three remaining elections that will take place in the city this year: the March 5 U.S. presidential primary, the June 18 primary election for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, mayor and City Council races and the November 5 general election for president and vice president, Senate, House of Representatives, mayor, City Council and School Board.
It’s going to be a busy season for candidates, voters and election officers. It is not a far stretch to appreciate Alexandria’s women who will be helping to ensure a smooth and fair process for all.
The writer is a founder of Alexandria Celebrates Women, a nonprofit commemorating the centennial of women’s suffrage and highlighting influential women throughout the city’s history.